The Negatives of Using Fuel Cells
One common misconception is that fuel cells are a type of battery, or at the very least serve a similar purpose. ZPower CEO Ross Dueber offers his opinion on why building a better battery might be the better way to go green.
Bright Hub: Fuel cells seem to be the du jour feel good technology, but it has some downsides, such as the CO2 that these produce. What are some of the biggest negatives to fuel cells?
Ross Dueber: Keep in mind that fuel cells are devices for converting energy into electricity, much like an engine converts gasoline into mechanical energy. Both the fuel cell and the engine need fuel, such as gasoline, diesel, alcohol, or hydrogen. Fuel cells can be more efficient on energy conversion than engines, but the byproducts are still the same in both cases.
All fuel cells require their incoming fuel to be converted into hydrogen first. Most hydrogen today is created from natural gas, a fossil fuel. It can also be created from water by electrolysis, but this process requires electricity, which most likely comes from a fossil fuel. Bottom line is that fuel cells seem clean, but they rely on fossil fuels just like everything else which makes them a part of the problem rather than the solution.
Hydrogen is very energy intensive to make and store. In fact in takes more energy to make and store hydrogen, than the hydrogen yields as output in a fuel cell. Hydrogen has to be stored at very high pressures or as a very cold liquid. In both cases it takes a lot of energy and space to create and store.
Fuel cells are not capable of supply high levels of power and are only good for low current applications – like charging a battery in the Medis fuel cell. The Medis fuel cell is incapable of supply the power needed for a cell phone or laptop—only a battery can do this. The Medis fuel cell can charge a cell phone battery at a very slow rate – maybe 10-12 hours. It is much cheaper to do this with disposable alkaline batteries if a wall outlet or battery charger is unavailable. Very expensive compared to batteries.